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Re-Designing the Principles: An Interactive Perspective to CPR Theory

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Type: Conference Paper
Author: Steins, Nathalie A.; Röling, Niels; Edwards, Victoria M.
Conference: Constituting the Commons: Crafting Sustainable Commons in the New Millennium, the Eighth Biennial Conference of the International Association for the Study of Common Property
Location: Bloomington, Indiana, USA
Conf. Date: May 31-June 4
Date: 2000
URI: https://hdl.handle.net/10535/507
Sector: Theory
Water Resource & Irrigation
Region: Europe
Subject(s): IASC
common pool resources--theory
common pool resources--study and teaching
design principles--critique
coastal resources--comparative analysis
Abstract: "The concepts and frameworks developed in common-pool resource (CPR) theory are increasingly being applied to problems associated with the management of complex CPRs at local and global level. Furthermore, existing frameworks are increasingly being adopted by organisations such as the World Bank as tools for crafting sustainable CPR use through collective action. The paper argues that CPR theory is not sufficiently developed to justify these practices and proposes an alternative perspective. "Based on a critical examination of CPR theory and empirical work conducted in the British, Irish and Dutch coastal waters, the paper argues that the definition of the rational, atomised actor underlying CPR theory is too limited to explain collective action processes. Instead, actors should be regarded as nested collectifs, whose strategies in the collective action arena are constantly reshaped. Second, the use of a static strategic model of rationality is insufficient to appreciate the shaping of collective action (or free-riding). Nested collectifs use different social and material means to achieve their objectives. In trying to enrol other collectifs in collective actions aimed at realising their projects, different forms of strategic and communicative rationality emerge. Third, the use of pre-defined categories and design principles diverts attention from (i) the stakeholders' constructions of collective resource management, and (ii) the influence of contextual factors, and therefore limits the explanatory power of CPR theory. Furthermore, a danger inherent in the design principles is that they are picked up as blueprints for the development of policies and intervention programmes for successful CPR management. "If CPR theory is to be used as a foundation for the analysis of complex CPRs or as a conceptual framework in pursuing the idea that collective action is a powerful alternative to deal with complex resource management problems, a radical reconstruction of its ontological foundation is needed. The paper proposes an interactive approach to the study and facilitation of complex CPR management. In this new approach, attention is shifted to the way actors (or nested collectifs ) construct collective resource management and the analysis of internal and contextual factors that shape the action strategies they adopt. In this analytical process, co-operation, free-riding and rationality are outcomes of the interplay and trials of strength amongst the different collectifs with a stake in the CPR, and their mobilisation of social and material resources. In view of the increasing reliance on collective action to solve complex resource management problems, the paper recommends that a praxeology (a theory that informs practice) for CPR theory needs urgent development. In this context, user platforms have much to offer to negotiate collective CPR use and management."

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